My three-year tenure as Norway’s ambassador to South Sudan has come to an end. It has been a privilege to represent my country to the South Sudanese people. They are such a resource for their country; generous, resilient, and hardworking. Norway has a special relationship with the people of South Sudan. This year’s celebration of Norwegian Church Aid’s 50 years of presence is a testament to the strong bond between our two peoples.
I have been fortunate enough to travel extensively in South Sudan. I have seen both the beauty and the immense suffering of the people. I will remember all the joyful and warm welcomes I received on my travels. It has been rewarding to interact with the people, express solidarity and to meet so many beneficiaries of Norwegian support. It shows that what we do matters!
South Sudan can be breath-taking. A visit to a cattle camp is unforgettable. So was a helicopter sightseeing at low altitude over the second biggest migration of wildlife after Serengeti. I will be forever grateful to have witnessed these treasures of South Sudan, and hope many more will get the chance to do so.
I have also been face-to-face with the victims of insecurity and conflict. The widespread abuse of women and children has been especially hard to deal with. This violence and impunity, if left unchecked, will continue to destroy not only the social fabric but also the economic and agricultural prospects of the country. I have met many farmers with great entrepreneurial skills, and they will produce enough food if their leaders guarantee peace and stability.
Silencing the guns - not the people
The National Dialogue kicked-off an open debate addressing South Sudan’s challenges in an honest manner. It also opened a space for honest debate, which cannot be easily reversed. Even if attempts to peacefully mobilise have been cracked down upon and outspoken citizens forced to leave the country, they continue to exercise influence from the outside. Still, I am saddened to see continued attempts to crack down on civic and political space, such as the recent arrest of protestors and a journalist at Konyo Konyo. Trying to silence discussion on the challenges facing South Sudan will not make them go away.
In the case of Nile Basin dredging, the Presidency has taken a stand on a very important issue for the country. Together with the opposition, it listened to the people, and joined forces to set on pause an action that has enormous implications for South Sudan and its people. This shows how free exchange of ideas also benefits decision-makers. Releasing political prisoners, stopping harassment of journalists and civil activists, and allowing those who have fled to return safely would demonstrate a clear commitment to opening political and civic space and create a conducive environment for elections.
Extension of the Peace Agreement
I have witnessed several extensions of the R-ARCSS during my three-year tenure. Now, political choices have led to the need for a two-year extension until February 2025. An extension will not change anything by itself: Real progress requires changes to the root cause of delayed implementation. Progress requires strong political will and trust between the parties. The trust deficit between the principals in South Sudan, and between the principals and international partners, is in serious need of repair.
The government must therefore demonstrate to its people, as well as its friends in the Troika and the wider international community, why we should trust it to deliver this time. We need to see real progress between now and February 2023. In particular, we expect the Government to progress on security sector reform and start graduating and deploying national unified forces, in line with the deadlines in the new Roadmap.
Planning for elections to take place in December 2024 must start now. The aim of elections is to help creating functioning, independent, national institutions that are accountable to the people of South Sudan. Such preparations will give the people confidence that their voices will be heard.
Sound governance and public financial management
I have devoted much of time in South Sudan to governance and economic issues. Broad-based economic reforms are urgently required:
To reduce rampant corruption; increase national revenues; and improve budget implementation. If done successfully, public financial management (PFM) reforms will allow Government to finance security sector reforms and increase social spending. I have witnessed some progress, but we still need to see more transparency on oil revenues and expenditure, better cash management and budget discipline. We also need to see concrete commitment to integrate the Customs Service into the National Revenue Authority to allow them to meet the Government’s non-oil revenues target.
This is key to alleviate widespread insecurity and human suffering, but also to finance the new Roadmap. South Sudan can simply no longer rely on the same level of donor funding. Increased global demand for humanitarian assistance, Russia’s war in Ukraine, continued insecurity, and attacks on humanitarian workers have all impacted funding priorities.
Turning a new page
The potential for peaceful coexistence and economic prosperity is so clearly present in South Sudan. To realize it this country needs a vision and a political system for the people, where women and youth must have a say in shaping the future. New ideas have to be injected to escape the status quo. Opening up civic and political space is the only way to let new ideas blossom. South Sudan also has many friends to turn to, in the region and beyond. Norway will continue to support and engage, bilaterally and as part of the Troika. As a true friend of the people of South Sudan we want constructive engagement based on good faith, trust, and openness. I am optimistic that through such engagement, South Sudan can overcome all its challenges.
I am honored and humbled by the opportunity to have played my own small part in the development of this great nation. I want to thank all my South Sudanese colleagues and friends for making my stay such a rewarding experience. I will always remain an ambassador for the cause of the people of South Sudan.